Policy advice on e-mail from different national archives

This blogpost consists of extracts from the advice on managing e-mail that the national archives of Australia, the UK, Canada and the US currently provide to the agencies/departments/ministries of their respective governments.

I am posting this simply to record the difference in policy between the national archives  of the US  (NARA) on the one hand and those of the UK, Canada and Australia on the other.   My next blogpost will give some background to the difference and on the dilemma that national archives face in relation to e-mail.

The four extracts were taken from policies accessed from the websites of the respective archives on 30 April 2015.

The National Archives of Australia

The following extract is taken from ‘Managing e-mail‘  available from the National Archives of Australia website. The navigation pathway is Home/ Records management /Managing your agency recordsDigital recordsManaging email

”You should store business email in a system that can manage it effectively for as long as it is needed. This could be an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS), a case management system or another suitable business system.

If your organisation doesn’t have a more suitable system, it’s better to store your business email in a network or shared drive system than leave it in an email system. Your information will at least be available to other staff to use and it can be stored in context. However, information in shared drives can be altered or deleted without authorisation so this should only be a temporary solution.”

The UK National Archives (TNA)

The following extract is taken from the ‘Managing e-mails’ page of the TNA website,.  The navigation path is Home > Information management > How to manage your information > Policy and process > Managing emails

Emails are an important part of the corporate record for all organisations. For public sector bodies they are public records and are subject to the Public Records Act, the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore they need to be managed in a way that meets legislative requirements.

All civil servants have an obligation to keep accurate official records under the Civil Service Code.You will need to:

  • define clearly which emails need to be kept for business or historical value

  • communicate simply and often to users the rules for what emails to keep

  • keep emails with related digital information in a shared corporate information management system

  • limit what users can keep in personal email accounts by the use of: – email account quotas OR – automatic deletion after a set period of time

The National Archives of Canada

The following extract is taken from ‘Email Management Guidelines Roadmap‘ from The National Archives of Canada website.  The navigation path is Home/ Services and Program/Managing Government of Canada Information ResourceGuidelines/ Email Management

3.1. Maintain and use an organized and efficient filing system for email

Email messages, other than non-records or transitory messages, should be moved from the email system to a separate filing system where they should be organized as specified in the classification structure approved by the institution. Messages should be indexed and kept for institution use until their scheduled disposal or until their transfer to archival storage. Archival storage should also be organized and indexed for efficient retrieval.


Canadian courts have followed a well-recognized approach which holds that a document filing system that belongs to a party involved in litigation should be organized and labelled or indexed in such a manner as to facilitate use by the other party.

It can be extremely time-consuming to locate relevant evidence, and a party to litigation might argue that the cost of producing records for discovery is too great. Courts will weigh the cost of discovery against the potential benefits of having the evidence. However, Courts have not been sympathetic when it has been determined that a major portion of the cost is due to the fact that the party’s filing system is poorly organized.

It is important not to underestimate the cost of discovery. On a major case, involving a large institution, the cost can run into the hundreds of thousands, indeed into the millions of dollars. In a number of jurisdictions, some defendants have settled out of court, not as an admission of guilt, but because settlement was less expensive than assembling the evidence required for a defence.

National Archives and Records Administration of the United States (NARA)

The following extract is taken from NARA Bulletin 2014-06 Guidance on Managing Email

The navigation path is Home > Records Management > Bulletins >Bulletin 2014-06

 4. What is the role of Federal employees in email management?

Currently, in many agencies, employees manage their own email accounts and apply their own understanding of Federal records management. This means that all employees are required to review each message, identify its value, and either delete it or move it to a recordkeeping system. Some email, such as spam or all-staff announcements, may be deleted immediately. On the other hand, substantive policy discussions conducted in email may be appropriate for preservation for several years or ultimate transfer to NARA.

NARA recognizes that placing the responsibility on employees to make decisions on an email-by-email basis can create a tremendous burden. As a result, NARA recommends that agencies immediately begin to adopt automated or rules-based records management policies for email management, such as the Capstone approach.

5. What is Capstone?

Capstone is an approach to managing email. It is not a type of technology. (See NARA Bulletin 2013-02: Guidance on a New Approach to Managing Email Records.) When adopting the Capstone approach, agencies must identify those email accounts most likely to contain records that should be preserved as permanent. Agencies will determine Capstone accounts based on their business needs. They should identify the accounts of individuals who, by virtue of their work, office, or position, are likely to create or receive permanently valuable Federal records. Capstone officials will generally be the top-level senior officials of an agency, but may also be other key decision makers at lower levels of the agency.

Following this approach, an agency can schedule all of the email in Capstone accounts as permanent records. The agency could then schedule the remaining (non-Capstone)email as temporary and retain all of them for a set period of time based on the agency’s needs. The Capstone Bulletin addresses additional options and best practices.

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